U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif were “getting to some real decisions” and voiced hope that a nuclear accord was within reach, after days of rancorous exchanges.
Diplomats cloistered in Vienna’s Palais Coburg for the past 16 days worked into the early hours on Sunday trying to bridge gaps over a United Nations embargo on arms sales and other issues that have made an agreement elusive. They’ve given themselves through July 13 to clinch a deal.
“I think we’re getting to some real decisions,” Kerry said after a late-night meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif. “So I will say - because we have a few tough things to do - I remain hopeful. Hopeful.”
As the high-stakes negotiations grind on, all sides say they’ve never been closer to reaching agreement. A Western official involved in the talks said a draft accord hasn’t been completed yet, and dismissed speculation that a deal could be announced on Sunday.
An accord would lift sanctions that have crippled Iran, holder of the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves and second-biggest natural gas stockpile. For its six negotiating partners, a deal would verifiably restrict Iran’s ability to pursue nuclear weapons, should it ever decide to do so.
Kerry wasn’t the only negotiator sending optimistic signals after several tense days in which diplomats threatened to walk out of the talks or blamed the other side for a possible breakdown.
Iranian media posted jovial photographs of Zarif and his team smiling over stacks of documents. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who last week said he’d rejoin talks should compromises be reached, will return to the Austrian capital later Sunday, according to a ministry official who asked not to be named.
Iranian diplomats who briefed journalists said a deal is at hand, Xinhua reported. And Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, also sounded upbeat.
“I am partly in the know that some challenges remain but overall I believe that it’s moving forward and in the current context an outcome can be reached,” Larijani said Sunday, when asked about the next 24 hours of talks by state-supported Iranian Students News Agency.
Diplomats have already blown through three deadlines in the past two weeks.
Iran cautioned the U.S. against setting and breaking deadlines. The practice amounts to “psychological war,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
The most recent missed deadline on July 9 means that should an agreement be reached, the U.S. Congress will have 60 days rather than 30 days to review an accord, thus delaying the lifting of sanctions.
The draft text of the agreement is said to be about 80 pages long and has five annexes. The final sticking points have revolved around disputes on timing, reciprocity and sanctions relief.